Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In May of this year Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote an op-ed piece for the LA Times about "Islamism" in Tukish politics which I thought about responding to at the time. Now I see that more capable voices, namely that of Yale political theorist Seyla Benhabib, have done the work for me. In the latest issue of Dissent, Benhabib says to an interviewer,
Miss Ayaan Hirsi Ali has now assumed a public role of exaggerating and driving Islam and everything related to Islam into the corner of fascism or a kind of theocracy. Her statement is simply uninformed. It is not a statement that can be taken seriously by anybody who is a democrat. First of all, there is no danger of Islamic theocracy in Turkey. I can assure you there will be a civil war in Turkey before there will be a theocracy.


Miss Hirsi Ali’s language is a language of confrontation that basically presents a homogeneous, orthodox Islam as closed to reform and transformation. And it is a language that presents a unified, uncritical and un-reflectively positive view of liberal democracies--as if they didn't have their own problems and reasons to be criticized. Miss Hirsi Ali has taken a decision to work with the American Enterprise Institute and to interfere politically and publicly through the American Enterprise Institute, which is a well-known right-wing think tank based in Washington. I have respect for her sufferings as a woman and as an individual, but I regret that this is the way in which she has chosen to talk about these issues that are very important to all of us.
I don't think we've spoken much of Ali here on the blog, but she's certainly provided a site for much discussion within liberal and conservative circles. (Partial) detractors include Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma. Defenders include Pascal Bruckner. The debate basically happened here, in the pages of the European intellectual magazine Sight and Sight, and in an Ash NYRB piece.

I've read several articles by Ali at this point, and, despite not having read her books yet, it seems to me that the hubbub has more to do with what one thinks of Ali as a symbol than with what she actually has to say as an individual. Obviously (and I am totally sympathetic with her here), Ali survived a repressive and no doubt terrifying childhood under an extreme form of Islamist fundamentalism, one that I, as a privileged secular Westerner, could not possibly fully grasp.

Yet her role since that time appears to be one of increasing "poster girl"-ism, in the sense that one dare not disagree with Ali's hardline anti-Islam attitude for fear of being labeled a hypocritical liberal, one that turns a blind eye to the plight of women under Islam. (This charge generally comes from people who support the war in Iraq and/or those who can barely be bothered to speak up about women's rights domestically). And as Benhabib says, Ali has aligned herself with the American Enterprise Institute, a move that would automatically disqualify anyone else from being taken seriously by anyone with even slightly liberal leanings. (Curry King has recently pointed out that the AEI is largely responsible for the recent "surge" implementation and propaganda.) So it appears that Ali has fallen victim to an instance of a fallacious "not-P, therefore Q" argument, whereby since she is not a fan of fundamentalist Islam (and who is, exactly?), she is therefore a fellow at a think tank full of right-wing reactionaries. Or perhaps she simply is an arch-conservative in the mold of AEI "scholars" Fred Kagan, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle and John Yoo, in which case I have no sympathy for her political views at all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What's on the Huffy Crew's summer reading list?

Currently I'm trying to work my way through:

50 Years of Dissent

Suite Francaise

Plato's Phaedrus (ed. C.J. Rowe)

Hostile Takeover

The Conservative Mind

Political Theory Today

Monday, July 09, 2007

Big Money Hillary?

Aye yi yi.

Let's be frank: These people are whores. As in the case of Clinton, they say one thing at the Take America Back conference, but then are "on the phone with Fortune - and her tone was far more measured." Whether you support business over labor or vice verse, there's no denying the duplicity and double-speak needed to run a Presidential campaign--for those on either side of the party aisle.

But still, it's important to keep your eyes open for the least whorish option. And as the Fortune article says, "Democrat John Edwards, who offers sharp-edged populism, is a tougher sell to business. But Clinton and Obama view CEO support as a key part of their crossover appeal." They have a relevant link to Edwards' strategy here. It's also heartening to see that of Edwards' major corporation donors, one is Costco--a business known for its good treatment of workers, hefty benefits, and a long-time Democrat CEO--while another is Starbucks, which despite its annoying ubiquity is actually quite a good place to work, apparently.

Edwards, of course, is a millionaire trial lawyer and hedge fund investor (nothing necessarily wrong with either of those, per se), and it's laughable to think that he has much of anything to do anymore, on a purely class-based level, with impoverished and working-class Americans. But we have to accept the reality that the Presidential race is a millionaire's club, and as it stands in America the poor have to be represented, in the last instance, by the rich. (Indeed, this is probably their best chance at real social improvement.) I've said it before and I'll say it again--Edwards in '08. Let me just state, though, that an Edwards presidency is not enough and that I would consider it only a first step in moving towards a more progressive agenda in this country., the official website of the Center for Responsive Politics, will be a good resource in the coming year.

The Hillary pic is via David Sirota.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Terrorism, Surfdom, and the Jews: A History

While many on this blog are enjoying their long summer evenings and dirty martinis, some writers on this blog (myself included) have recently experienced the front lines on the War on Terror: London, England. For those of you flocking to see Sicko, behold the horrors of godless socialism! Along the road to surfdom we have now seen not only long lines and poor quality of health professionals, but Islamic fundamentalists as well. As D'souza would surely agree, these Brits had it coming.

Yet, even as the world turns its vengeful eyes on foreign doctors of all sorts, it's important to keep things in perspective. As frightening as this recent plot was, it's nowhere nearly as insidious or wide in scope as the most infmaous of Doctors' Plots: the Jews'.

Thank God for Stalin, for were it not for his strong hand who knows how far the Jews' poison would have reached. I pray that Gordon Brown has the strength and courage to deal with these ruffians with the same forcefulness as Josef. These doctors, and doctors everywhere, should know that while America is not afraid of privatizing the very same health care the terrorists want us to Communistize, it won't put a price on freedom.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Prison State

Via blogger Bean at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, I see that the United States' prison population grew by 62,000, or 2.8 percent, from 2005 to 2006 to reach about 2,245,000 total inmates, by far the largest incarcerated population in the world. Reuters has more.

That's not just the highest rate. That's the highest absolute number of inmates. The King's College-based International Centre for Prison Studies has a comparative table. The United States, a nation of 300 million, has, as noted above, a prison population of 2.245 million, or one prisoner for every 133 citizens. That's a prison rate of 751 (for every 100,000 citizens). China, the number two incarcerator, has 1,548,498 prisoners out of a population of 1.319 billion, or one prisoner for every 851 citizens. (Prison rate = 118) China has 700 prisons and 340 "re-education camps." Of these, it is known that the camps are at 87% capacity. The U.S. has 5,069 total institutions and is at 107.6% capacity.

The Department of Justice has more alarming statistics here. In 2005 there were 3,145 black male inmates per 100,000 black males, as opposed to 471 white male inmates per 100,000. In 2003 52% of inmates were incarcerated for violent crime, with the remaining 48% split between property charges, drugs, and public order. A full 20% of people in prison were there for drug charges.

For a slightly unfair but still telling comparison, according to Wikipedia (I welcome a more trustworthy source here) the Soviet Gulag had about 2.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps by the early 1950s. Historian Kate Brown says that the total number of people sent through the camps over several decades was about 3.7 million. (Of course the Gulag system was much more deadly, had far worse conditions, and many/most of the prisoners there had been convicted through completely sham means. But still--they're freakin' equal numbers, folks.)

Of course, our dear President and his ilk being complete right-wing nut jobs, he wants to re-impose mandatory minimum jail time for almost all criminals, which the 2005 Supreme Court decision U.S. v. Booker found unconstitutional. Would the current Court uphold such a policy? (That's a joke.)

I'd be interested to know how the U.S. numbers reflect police efficiency as compared with other nations as well as how high U.S. crime rates are, comparatively. In any case, it's bitter food for thought for Fourth of July season.

They Walk Among Us

I'm always interested in the extent to which leftist authors and commentators are actually represented in the supposedly left-wing media. Needless to say, the numbers are quite negligible. Exceptions include members of the Democratic Socialists of America, such as syndicated columnist Harold Meyerson (at the Washington Post, of all places), Barbara Ehrenreich, and Cornel West. These are hardly hard-left authors, it's worth noting, and I generally share their views.

Nowadays, however, I notice that Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army has enjoyed some critical and commercial success. According to the book's official website, Blackwater debuted at #9 on the New York Times non-fiction hardback list back in April. I have heard interviews with Scahill on "Fresh Air" and other sources. Now I see that Scahill delivered an acerbic speech at the 'Socialism 2007' forum in Chicago. Scahill's success is no small feat in today's decidedly conservative and moderate book market.

When was the last time a similarly left-wing book met with such acclaim? Here's the New York Times' current best-seller lists for hardcover non-fiction and paperback non-fiction for points of reference. (And no, Al Gore's #3 book doesn't count.) Anybody have any other examples? I think it's kind of cute when they manage to sneak in like Scahill.